The ‘robo-raptor’ is better than real birds of prey at protecting planes from pesky flocks

RobotFalcon

RobotFalcon

Is it a bird? Is it an airplane? Well, actually, it’s a bit of both, and it does a better job than real birds at keeping birds away from airplanes.

RobotFalcon was developed by the University of Groningen, the Netherlands, to drive away herds that linger near airports putting flights at risk.

The realistic robo-raptor has been designed to look and mimic the movements of a peregrine falcon, the fastest animal in the world, which hunts many species of birds.

The fiberglass bird – which has a propeller on each wing and controls on the tail for steering – weighs just half a pound and can travel over 30 mph. A camera on the head allows piloting via the remote control.

In new tests carried out in agricultural fields, RobotFalcon completely eliminated flocks of birds in less than five minutes.

In similar tests, drones only managed to kill 80% of birds over the same period.

Engineers said the approach was cheaper and more ethical than using real birds of prey which are often difficult to control.

Writing in the Royal Society Interface, Dr Rolf Storms said: “The breeding and training of falcons is very expensive, and the effectiveness of falconry is limited because falcons cannot fly often and guide their attacks is problem.

“Instead of live falcons, models that visually and behaviorally mimic predators may be a promising way to deter birds, retaining the benefits of a live predator, but with fewer practical limitations.

“It has the advantage of being able to be precisely steered to target a herd and to fly more frequently than live hawks.”

RobotFalcon

RobotFalcon

RobotFalcon

RobotFalcon

Bird strikes cost the airline industry around £1.2billion each year and can be extremely dangerous.

Although aircraft and engines are designed to withstand bird strikes, hitting multiple birds or large birds, such as geese, can cause serious problems.

In 2009, a US Airways plane was forced to make an emergency landing after hitting a flock of Canada geese shortly after takeoff.

All passengers and crew survived after Captain Chesley Sullenberger landed the plane on the Hudson River.

Figures from the Civil Aviation Authority show that there are around 3,000 collisions or near-misses each year in UK airspace.

Current methods of eliminating birds include shining lasers into flocks, using pyrotechnics, or playing the birds’ distress calls. But the herds usually get used to these methods over time and return to the area.

The Dutch team said the RobotFalcon outperformed other methods of hunting corvids such as crows, gulls, starlings and lapwings.

The robot kept birds away from the area for up to four hours, compared to less than two hours for other methods.

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